Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Indonesian Omnibus

Growly Dog Attacks

Our first impression of Bali is hot, humid, and pressing. We're back in the tropical heat of the equator. In a way, finally! In another way, it's very, very hot.

We take a taxi to the house we rented. It takes a while to figure out if we're actually in the right spot, and when we do realize we're in the correct location, and try to find the house by going through the complex, two growly dogs bark at Dad and me. Loudly. Right at our feet.

You can never be sure which ones will bite and which ones won't, so we go back to the center to wait for the owner. He zooms in on a motorcycle— slightly overweight like every over-25-year-old foreigner who comes to Bali—  takes one of our bags between his knees, and zooms down the same alleyway Dad and I had gone down. The dogs are his, and he takes them into the house next door, gets our key, and opens the small gate for us. We trudge into the small inner courtyard, looking around in the pitch dark for the stepping stones.

It's a typical Balinese villa— not quite a traditional house, but it does have the beautiful woodwork and the outside kitchen— downstairs is one large room with a hallway leading to the enormous bathroom (half of it is actual bathroom; the rest is tile and decoration). The room is divided by a long canvas sheet to create a small bedroom. It has books, but quite a few are in Russian. I read In the Land of the Never-Never off my iPod instead— none of the books in the bookcase interested me too much.

Ioan took the sofa, Ileana and I took the canvas-walled bedroom, and Mom and Dad headed upstairs to the fully air-conditioned actual bedroom. Dad took full advantage of it.

We spent the next couple of days in Kuta looking around (at least, Dad and Ioan did— they went to the beach to check out surfing lessons). I, on the other hand, enjoy staying inside the house and following my own schedule, so that's what I did. I don't think anyone else in the family will fully understand how the things I'm writing about or reading about could be more interesting than seeing an authentic Balinese town, but like I said. The more you travel the more you find out that everything is interconnected. The more you figure out that every amazing sight advertised in the guidebook is only amazing when you haven't seen India, or Cambodia, or Thailand (or whatever else has influenced the current island/conutry). When you have seen India, Cambodia, or Thailand, amazing drops right down to 'cool.' And if you're not very interested in architecture or markets, 'cool' drops down to 'unimportant.'

So I stayed inside. We did all go out to the beach, and enjoyed ourselves (took a picture with a few schoolgirls who spotted me walking semi-alone). The beach in Kuta is special because the depth difference between dry and an inch of water is very, very small and taken in incremental steps. So it happens that you have thirty, fifty feet of semi-wet sand before you're actually stepping in water, and it makes a great deal of the beach look like a giant mirror.

That was about the extent of our advenutres in Kuta, except for one thing.

The two dogs, whose food was stored in our villa's kitchen, crashed in through the villa's outside door while were all outside.

Instant action. Mom grabbed a big bamboo stick, Ioan ran in to shut the doors (so did Ileana and Dad), and I was there being called out to help (or maybe not, I misremember). Point is, I'm holding a stick, Mom's holding a stick, and we've got to get these snarling, barking dogs (they only snarled/barked at the sticks). I'm barefoot, but Mom has sandals, and we somehow manage to get them out.

Finally the proprietor comes back and we explain all that's been going on to him. The parents and him have a long talk about 'life and the world,' as we say in Romanian, the dogs come in again, lazing around the yard, etc.

It was an interesting experience, to say the least. 

We took off to Candidasa a bit later. This was one of the stopovers to meet the Going Away family— we were going to travel to Gili Meno or some other such island, and we were meeting at a port somewhere near Candidasa.

So that's where we went to stay for two days. A semi-fascinating experience because we were the only tourists there at the moment, so everyone was coming out trying to get us to buy something or go into their restaurant or whatever.

Our hotel had a pool, a seaview like the Bellagio— there was a wave breaker (or something) out there, and whenever the waves hit it, spurts of water would go out in sequence, just like at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.

Mom and Dad wanted us all to sightsee, but as usual, "No!" I said, "We've eaten the food all over Asia, the temples are like in India and Cambodia, the streets are like in India… we've seen all this stuff!"

And while it may sound terrible ("How could you possibly not want to see a Balinese temple?"), it's mostly true. We've seen nuances and versions so much that anything semi-remotely like anything else we've seen before becomes more boring than whatever it is we're doing at the moment.

The discussion was postponed, since Dad, Ioan, and Mom wanted to go to the pool. They went to the pool, enjoyed themselves, and came back to the kids' room with some news.

"Dad's eyes hurt," Mom announced.

It turns out that he's finally (semi-learned) the lesson that he was always told about when he was little: don't open your eyes underwater! It's never done anything to him before, but this particular pool must have had a strange mix of chlorine and water, because Dad couldn't see anything without seeing stars at the same time, for the next four to six hours. We had to lead him by the hand to the restaurant, point out what it said on the menu, and tell him where the stairs were. Most of the time we were laughing uncontrollably at the fact that Dad couldn't see anything but big, huge moving blurs.

Gili Meno

After staying in Candidasa two days, we took a taxi half an hour to the pier. By the time we reached the place where we'd meet the Going Anyway family, ti was pouring rain. Since I was carrying the bag of tools, I had to put on a raincoat. Everyone else got to walk around without plastic, which is lucky for them. The book I had in my backpack, My Family and Other Animals, will be permanently wrinkled from that particular rainstorm.

We met Chris and followed him to the very small restaurant where the rest of the family was waiting. After hugs, kisses, 'hellos,' and "Oh, my goodness, baby boy, how you've grown!" we walked to where the boats actually were and took the slow boat (four hours or so, leaving at 10am). We piled in, one by one, with Sparkie and the other kids. People were trying to sell us all sorts of things— DVDs, peanuts, bananas, small bits of sticky rice that were sweet, etc. 

Every single one of the kids was shaking their heads, "No, no, no, no, no." To everything.

And I turned to Mom and said, "How many five-year-olds would say 'no,' to candy, peanuts, and sunglasses?"

And the answer is, not many. In fact, perhaps most five year olds would be shouting to be given the candy, peanuts, and sunglasses. And even though they're ridiculously cheap, every traveling kid knows that anything they buy they have to carry. And so they don't buy anything.

The slow ferry actually left at about 11:30, but we made good time to, Lombok, I think it was, drove to the guesthouse, where we had a lovely sleep.

However, there was one big adventure. I had to write my world for the day, and it wouldn't charge unless the light was on. Also, everyone else's iPods needed to be charged.

"Okay," I said, "this is what we'll do. I'll write my world and keep using the laptop and check the iPods. You guys try to sleep."

The lightbulb was bright, and I'd already finished my world. I was trying to find things to do, because I couldn't use my iPod (it wasn't charging), and I'd finished everything I had to do on the laptop, so I had nothing else to do but find something to read off the laptop and check the other iPods every other minute.

I have never been so anxious to turn the light off and sleep. We turned off the light… and the fan stopped too.

"Oh, good, we won't freeze at night."

12am. I've been bitten all over my back. I try to ignore it, but it doesn't work.

Get up. Unlock the door. Walk over to Mom and Dad's room, which requires going down one porch, walking two meters, and going up another porch. Knock on their door. 

"Who is it?"



"We need a mosquito coil, or mosquito repellent!" Take the repellent. Trudge back to our room. Spray it on every possible body part. Give it to Ioan, who's woken up.

"Ileana, you have to put mozzie spray on."


Two minutes later. "Ileana!"


"You've got to—"

"I know! Let me sleep!"

"Now, Ileana. We're getting eaten alive by mosquitos."

A pause. "Oh." She gets up, slaps the repellent on, and falls asleep again.

Someone on the main street is playing loud rock music. It takes another hour for me to fall asleep. My back is still itching like crazy. Ioan fidgets; he can't sleep either.

We wake up the next morning and have breakfast in the owner's house. She makes us pancakes or omelettes, makes tea, and lets us play with her daughter and four cats (three are kittens) while we're waiting. The GA kids are allergic to cats, but it doesn't stop them from playing. As we take off in a bemo (something like a truck, with two benches on either side. It's cramped, but 11 of us fit in the back with all the luggage. Tintin's sitting on Ioan, Snowy's sitting on Ileana or Mom, I've got Meenabadeena, Jill has baby boy, Dad's squashed. Sparky's in the middle in her chariot, but she's got bags and people piled up all around her. Our driver takes the scenic route, the one tourists pay a ton of money for, and we reach the harbor. We charter a boat to take us across, stop the overly helpful locals from carrying Sparky on themselves, and sit down. The boat tosses and turns in the 45 minutes to Gili Meno, but it's fine. We disembark, put our sandals on, and sit in the nearest restaurant to eat. 

Afterward, the dads, Baby Boy, and Mom start walking around the island to find a hotel. It takes about 90 minutes to make a full circuit around the island, and they finally find a place. We take three bungalows (two for the Dascalus, 1 for the GA family). Mom stays there with Baby Boy, while Chris and Dad come to pick us all up. We pile most of the luggage into a pony cart (they're everywhere), and Meena and I stay in the back to make sure no one makes off with any of the bags. The rest of them walk.

It rained in Gili Meno, at times torrentially. At one point, after swimming, the adults were talking and I was listening in. The rain started, and I was getting cold, so I took off the long-sleeved Coolibar shirt (one interesting thing I learned in scuba is to remove the wet layers, even if it leaves more skin exposed). When the rain stopped for a moment, I ran back to the bungalow, changed clothes quickly, and ran back just as the rain was starting again.

The rain didn't stop the kids, though. They made a tree house, complete with some sort of storage space for the various shell rings they found. They made booby traps— holes in the sand with sticks and leaves put over them, then a thin layer of sand to disguise it. I'm not sure if it worked, since I didn't care to test it.

On the third day or so, Chris, Mom, and I decided to go scuba diving. Before we got on the boat Meena told us not to die, and I told her that it's nearly impossible for anyone to die on these trips because of all the safety rules in place.

We drove out, jumped backwards into the water, and dove down. Equalizing is annoying at the beginning, but then I got used to it. Mom wasn't there. I looked around for her bright green fins. She still hadn't shown up. After about five minutes of worrying about it, I realized that something was probably wrong with her equipment and she was waiting for us on the boat.

We looked around, seeing underwater life, etc etc etc. It's not particularly interesting. You can't interact with it much. At one point my air reached 50. This is the signal to head back up. When I told Sup, (pronounced like 'soup'), the dive master, he nodded, told me 'Okay,' and kept going.

Alright, I thought, he's letting everyone else in the group finish up.

BUT HE WASN'T. When I was at about 40, he gave me his buddy breather (the extra mouthpiece attached to each tank), and we kept going for who knows how many minutes. I was bored. I was tired. I wasn't seeing anything interesting. He told me to take out the buddy breather and put my own mouth piece back in, and then we started the ascent. This means you go up to 10m below surface and wait 3-5 minutes. I hung out, barely able to control my desire to be back up top.

It wasn't that I was low on air— I knew exactly what to do should I go out completely. It was the fact that it seemed so unimportant to everyone else. I'm getting worked up again just thinking about it.

We reached the surface and started talking about what we'd seen— turtles, a catfish… the back half of a shark.

"What, you saw the back half of a shark and didn't tell us?"

"Everyone else was pointing to where it was… I thought you'd all seen it!" I said. Also, I had more important things to think of! I was thinking.

Of course, there's not much point explaining this to people who are obviously enthused. Mom and I met up, decided scuba-ing wasn't for us, and compared what we'd seen. Mom's mask kept letting in water, so she headed up to the surface and switched with another diver, who had to snuff the water out every thirty seconds or so.

So while it was an interesting experience, I don't think I'll be repeating it for a long, long while.

For the next few days, we played on the beach, talked a lot, and tried to read (Ileana somehow succeeded, but I couldn't). Then, when deciding how much more time we'd spend on the island, the mothers surprised us by both saying they'd had enough.

And so that abruptly became the last day on the island. We enjoyed ourselves on the beach again— Ioan and Tintin dedicatedly built a huge hole and buried themselves in it. We played limbo and 'jump-over-the-stick', did gymnastics, and in general goofed off. We had a meal at one of the restaurants, talked some more, and went to bed early.

The next morning, we double-checked the room (somehow I've managed to misplace not one, but three hats on this trip… one of them not mine), headed to breakfast, ate the banana pancakes (delicious), and took off in the boat.

From there, we took taxis, ferries, and more taxis to Ubud, where we took two bungalows at Jati3 (by the time we found it…). We relaxed a bit, went out to the cheapest place in town (an eccentric place with drawings of human sexual positions in the bathroom and another of two boars engaging in baby-making activities in the dining area). 

Still, the food was cheap— we tended to have spaghetti or Balinese food.

The GA family went off the next day to find a house for the next month— the kids are going to school and so they need a base from which to relax. They came back that afternoon, and we had a lovely time in the pool. The next day, same  thing, except without the pool. 

This is where my memory starts getting fuzzy. We went to see shadow puppets— the action was completely lost on me, as most of it was in Indonesian, with 'scene breaks' in English featuring jokes of a completely different calibre of humor from mine. I went down the pathway instead to watch them as they did the job. There are five people backstage, two playing instruments. One is the puppet master. He stands just behind a microphone and a small open fire, whacking the puppets around as if they aren't made of paper-thin leather (and what's up with that? Hindus don't do cow leather). Two others help him, giving him puppets, organizing them, dimming the fire as needed. 

This was the fascinating bit of the entire experince… if I'd been in the audience I would have lost patience with the entire performance and been wondering when it would end. (As it was, the performance was twice as long as it needed to be).


Javanese names are a bit weird. Yogyakarta, (or Jogjakarta, depending on whom you ask), Jakarta, etc. I've forgotten everything Dad told me about what was where, so I'll simply tell you that we saw three things here:

Borobudur Temple
We took an enormously expensive hotel (with a beautiful, high-class restaurant that made me feel distinctly annoyed with all restaurants) which offered a sunrise trip to Borobudur. You get a uniform (apparently 'necessary,' even though I had an ankle-length skirt on and they clashed), are guided to the entrance, and then you get to climb up in the pitch darkness with hotel-lended flashlights. 

You reach the top, lose every single member of your family who wants to take a picture (sensible people stay put and then have to go look for everyone else), watch the sunrise come up (beautiful!), and then descend, walking clockwise around the temple to see the various panels of the Buddha's life.

It's a beautiful temple, to say the least. I like the symmetry of it and the way that the top circular layers are arranged. It's definitely something to think about for future books.

Prambanan Temple

Of a smaller fame level than Borobudur, this is basically a collection of temples to Hindu gods. In the volcano eruption in… 2006, I think, the entire thing was covered with ash. Vishnu's temple still isn't accessible.

We spent some time walking around and trying to figure out what the Indonesian signs meant— ceruk-cerak (che-rook che-rak) means scratching. And it's a very onomatopoeic word.

The ballet

This… was interesting. It was basically the full Ramayana (Hindu epic of epic proportions, longer than the Odyssey and the Iliad put together).

The basic story of the Ramayana is this: Rama marries Devi. Along with his brother, they're walking in the forest when a golden deer comes prancing along. Devi wants to have the deer. The deer, however, is actually one of the competitors for Devi's hand in marriage, and he's trying to lure her away. Rama goes after the deer, leaving his brother to take care of Devi. But then he goes after the deer too, and leaves Devi in a magic circle. The deer-man has now transformed himself into a beggar, and he comes to beg from Devi, who steps out of the magic circle.

She becomes imprisoned and is taken to his palace, where she meets Hanuman, the white monkey. She gives him her ring, which he's supposed to show to Rama to prove that he's on Devi's side. Hanuman finds Rama (and there are a few adventures in between, one including a bird). He brings him to Devi and Rama kills the deer-man/beggar/giant.

And, at the end of all this… Devi has to walk through some symbolic fire to prove she's still pure so that Rama will take her back!

Needless to say, I wasn't it the mood for watching it. It didn't help that the dancers kept taking little mincing steps (even Rama!) and making precise hand gestures… we left during intermission, as it was cold and most of us were falling asleep.

The benefit to all this is that instead of actually watching the ballet, I instead plotted out a great deal of Perfume, my Camp NaNoWriMo novel. It's lovely to get character insight with Indonesian music in the background.

Bali, Take Two

We reached Ubud again, and had the exact bungalow we had before in Jati3. 

It's at Jati3, both times, that I did quite a lot of math. It doesn't matter if I'm not quite certain how to calculate standard deviation any more— the point is I need only short refresher and I'll be right back on track, with no need to puzzle through a ton of complicated books with bad explanations.

I'm really fuzzy about the order we did all these next things in, but the gist of it is, we met with the Going Anyway family again and had dinner.

We also went to Uluwatu, which if I remember corcetly is more southwesterly. This is where we went to a temple with macaques.

They stole Ioan's glasses right off his nose, so the rest of us went around not seeing anything at the temple. It was interetsing, but not breathtaking or anything of the sort.

We also saw a Kecak dance (remember that in Indonesian, 'c' is pronounced 'ch'). It's a group of 40-60 men of all ages, wearing sarongs wrapped around their waist and a red flower behind one ear.

And they made a 'cak cak cak cak cak cak cak' sound, with rhythm. It's one of the most amazing sounds you'll ever hear in your life. 

The performance also showcased part of the Ramayana— the golden deer, the fight against the giant, Hanuman's escape, etc. But it was much funnier, and much more entertaining than the ballet, not to mention much nicer to listen to!

Bali was a beautiful island to go to. It's the only Hindu island in all of Indonesia, which is Islamic. It has a beautiful language, interesting customs (the lady of the house goes around te every door, window, and idol to place a bamboo offering basket, every day.) It's warm, plagued by mosquitoes of all shapes and sizes, and has a weird cat species whos etails look as if they've been chopped off.

And even though we didn't see much of Java, speunding only three days there, that's an interesting country too.

At any rate, we ate many banana pancakes (good), and lots of jaffles (interesting). And I suppose that if you've got good food, everything else follows.

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